Friday, 23 December 2016

What will happen if the revolution is defeated

Basheer Nafi: 

 'The Syrian revolution, just like other Arab revolutions, began as a peaceful and popular uprising. No one within its ranks wanted to resort to arms. Syrians were forced to defend themselves and their loved ones by the failure of the world to deter the regime and stop its bloody persecution. The Syrian revolution turned into an armed confrontation only after many months of mass rallies in March 2011 and only after army officers and soldiers began dissenting and forming the first Free Army cells for the sake of protecting the popular movement. The revolution was not a civil war and this is not what the Syrian people wanted it to be. It was never meant to be one segment of the people mobilising against the other.

 The revolution was, and it continued to be so for years, an expression of a big and wide popular movement aimed at building a new Syria, at regaining the freedom of the entire Syrian people and at establishing a democratic and just system. However, the revolution did become an armed national liberation movement and a civil war and the regime bears the primary responsibility for this. It vowed from the start to crush this popular movement with armed force and refused to meet the people half way. A meeting was held toward the end of March 2011 in the office of President Assad in Damascus. In that meeting, which was attended by a senior Hezbollah official in addition to Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, the Iraqi minister of national security and the President’s brother Maher al-Assad, Assad said: “We taught them a lesson at Hama that silenced them for 40 years and I shall teach them a lesson that will silence them for 100 years.”

  Should the revolution be defeated and the status quo be accepted, the rule of the Assad regime will continue and the country will remain occupied by the foreign powers and militias. The Syrian majority will have to suffer under a regime that will be much more vicious and oppressive than it was before the revolution in the spring of 2011. The regime that perpetrated all these massacres will not commit to any genuine reforms. In other words, if the revolution stops, Syria will turn into a country of hell for the majority of Syrians, a hell that is more oppressive and much uglier than anything the Syrians witnessed over the past six years. The refugees will not return to their homes and Syria will witness an unprecedented sectarian demographic re-engineering process, something it has never before experienced. Even before the revolution came to an end, some circles within Hezbollah and inside Iran are already talking about the Shiite identity of Aleppo and about displacing the Sunni population from the west of Damascus to the Lebanese borders. Instability will not be confined to Arab countries but will also touch Turkey, which will find itself faced with a sectarian wall that will isolate it from its Arab neighbourhood in the south and with a Russian aerial siege that begins from the air bases in the south of Russia, the north of Georgia and the Crimean Peninsula all the way to the Russian control of the Syrian airspace.

Continuing the revolution is not therefore a futile act, nor is it fighting on for the sake of fighting. With some patience and steadfastness, this revolution can still win. In fact, it has been standing on the verge of winning. The regime is living through its weakest moments since the eruption of the revolution, whether in terms of its military and economic capabilities or in terms of its control over the country and its aptitude to express the sovereignty of the state. This regime exists in no more than one third of the country and in that third it shares control on the ground with Shiia militias that poured in from several countries in addition to Iranian and Russian units. Even with all the support it receives from its allies, the regime is incapable of fighting two major battles at the same time. Tadmur illustrates the actual military power of the regime. It is not true that the Afghan militias alone undertook to protect the existence of the regime in Tadmur because the city had within it Syrian regular troops and Russian units as well. According to Russian reports, as soon as IS began its onslaught on Tadmur, the commander of the region’s forces and most of his troops fled. As a result, the Russians needed to launch an air strikes campaign that lasted for several hours just to secure the withdrawal of their own troops.

 Syria today is what Vietnam looked like in the early 1970s or Afghanistan in the mid-1980s. In both Vietnam and Afghanistan, the regime seized control of the country’s capital and ran a quasi-state and what may resemble state institutions. It spoke in the name of a small minority of the people and its existence was secured and protected by the presence of a massive foreign power. In both cases, there was no need for inflicting a decisive military defeat on the foreign forces; it was sufficient to exhaust them and make their presence unbearable, either as a result of the losses sustained continuously or as a result of the reaction of public opinion in their own countries. Unlike the situation in Syria, where revolutionary forces control vast stretches of land across the country, the resistance forces in those two cases were not able to secure their presence in tangible areas in South Vietnam and in Afghanistan until quite late in the war.
There is no ambiguity or confusion about the options of the Syrian people, even in the aftermath of the occupation of Aleppo: either return to the life of enslavement and fascist minority rule or continue the revolution until victory is achieved. Victory is not only possible; there should be no doubt whatsoever that it is inevitable. Yet, the first condition for achieving this victory is to rebuild the military arm of the revolution under the banner of the Free Syrian Army and the emergence of a united political leadership with a clear vision for the future of Syria and its people.'

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Syrian station Radio Alwan defies war to continue broadcasting

A woman in a scarf touches her headphones as she speaks into a microphone.

 'Putting a radio program to air is challenging at the best of times, but imagine putting a program to air from inside a war-torn country. That's exactly what the independent Syrian station Radio Alwan manages to do every day.

 "It started in 2013, after the revolution," Radio Alwan's deputy chief executive Sami al Joundi said. "We are the radio station for the Syrian people. We needed to cover what was really happening inside our country because the Syrian regime media was not correct."

 While Radio Alwan used to have offices in Aleppo and Idlib, it is now far too dangerous to operate in most of those regions.

 "It became very dangerous operating from inside Syria," says Mr Joundi. "Syrian regime and radical groups were targeting us. Al Nusra and other groups were attacking us. We wouldn't be able to continue if we stayed in Syria. We had to move our main office to Istanbul so we could continue doing our work."

 Mr Joundi said they try to speak with their staff every day to make sure they're alive and safe, but sometimes making contact with them is unnervingly difficult.

 "We call them every day," he said. "Sometimes we can't get through because the bombing has destroyed phone and internet lines, so it can be very nerve-racking."

 Radio Alwan covers news and current affairs. It hears from experts in psychology to give Syrian parents information about how to care for their children during the war, and technology experts who explain about how to get mobile and internet coverage during the fighting. There is a women's program, made by a Syrian woman in Idlib, as well as drama and comedy shows.

 "Our comedy show is being written, acted and edited from inside Syria," Mr Joundi said. "They make us laugh, we make them laugh, and we are able to broadcast this to our people in Syria."

 Radio Alwan's most popular drama series is called Sad Northern Nights.

 "It's a story about a Syrian family which many people can relate to," Mr Joundi said. "The main character is a single mother with her son. Her husband was killed during the revolution and she's trying to flee the country. Throughout her journey from the southern part of Syria she passes through many different locations and meets lots of different people. It's the same thing you hear in the news but in a different way — a less brutal way."

 Mr Joundi said it was difficult to remain hopeful considering what was happening inside his country.

 "The real story is being lost. People have started to forget why the Syrian people went out and started the revolution demonstrations in the first place. Instead, it's shifted to extremism. We're trying to not miss any details of what's happening in Syria and be on the side of the people only." '

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Message from Syria to the United States: We’ll never again believe your lofty rhetoric

Image result for Message from Syria to the United States: We’ll never again believe your lofty rhetoric

 Abdulfattah Alkhaled:

 'The United States representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, gave an impassioned speech last week asking Russian and Syrian representatives whether they felt “any shame at all” for their actions in Aleppo, and whether there is “no execution of a child that gets under [their] skin?” For Syrians, these statements were infuriating. Americans should be asked the very same questions. You, too, have blood on your hands.

 Over the past few years, you have deceived us with your empty promises. From the first day of the 2011 revolution to the most recent breakdown of a life-saving evacuation effort, the killing of Syrians has been met with consistent U.S. inaction, or worse: U.S. acquiescence to Russian aggression. While the Assad and Russian regimes are responsible for the vast majority of Syrian bloodshed, by no means should you feel entitled to lecture the world based on your supposed “moral superiority.” You have let us down again and again.

 After Rwanda and then after Srebrenica, you said, “Never again.” After Gaza you said nothing at all. Today, you can no longer rest on your hollow rhetoric celebrating freedom and equality. Today as Syrians, watching you glibly condemn a catastrophe that is partly of your own making, we ask if you feel any shame at all for your inaction.

 President Obama, you declared that if President Assad used chemical weapons against his enemies, he’d be crossing a “red line.” You watched him cross it. Aren’t you ashamed? Ashamed that your concern and care for the Syrian people evaporated at the first sign of difficulty and complication? Are you not embarrassed that “strategic overseas interests” trumped your willingness to take any and all steps necessary to stop the wanton death of hundreds of thousands?

 Do you and your spokespeople at the U.N. and beyond look in the mirror and think, “We encouraged the Syrian people to rise up, and then watched impassively as they were slaughtered for it”? Do you not feel cowardly for refusing to engage and confront Russian aggression beyond shallow public condemnations?

 And President-elect Trump, have you no shame in your public affirmation of Russia as the U.S.’s strategic partner in Syria? The same Russia that has joined the Assad regime in massacring the Syrian people. Are you not uncomfortable with stating publicly that the Assad regime is fighting Islamic State despite the evidence suggesting that Assad has actually facilitated the growth, expansion and survival of Islamic State?

 President Obama and President-elect Trump, your silence is deafening and has set a dangerous global precedent. You should be ashamed.

 Now it is our turn to lecture you. Next time you trumpet the American commitment to human rights, remember how far you have fallen. In the early days you claimed to support our protests as legitimate expressions of the desire for change. But you only supported us with words, not actions, and now activists in Aleppo are sending their final goodbyes before they’re executed, forcibly displaced, raped, tortured, or killed in an airstrike.

 The fall of Aleppo is only the beginning. Russia and the Assad regime have a far more ambitious end goal: complete military victory at any cost. The atrocities committed in Aleppo this week will undoubtedly be followed by similar cleansings in other areas.

 In the past, I might have ended such a letter by making specific demands for U.S. action and leadership. But now I know better. All I can do is loudly proclaim that Syrians are no longer blind to the emptiness and cruelty of U.S. foreign policy.

 This is your legacy, Obama, one that Trump seems happy to continue. Is there nothing that can shame you? Are there no acts of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin?'

Priority revenge

 Bente Scheller (photo: Stephan Rohl)

 Bente Scheller:

 'What happens if Assad falls? In discussions on this question, politicians and experts have occasionally raised the question of what an Islamist rebel victory might mean for Syria's ethnic and religious minorities and whether the Alawite minority – President Assad has an Alawite background – should then be protected from acts of vengeance.

 But unfortunately, the counter-question has been posed all too rarely: what about acts of vengeance carried out by the regime, should Assad win? Right from the outset, Assad's war against the protesting Syrian people has provided a foretaste of this. Long before it was clear how the conflict with the revolting Syrian population might end, the regime had already begun taking revenge. Whether it was the shots fired at peaceful demonstrators at the start of the conflict, the blanket deployment of barrel bombs, the massacres, or the arbitrary arrest of thousands still missing to this day, many of whom have been tortured to death: the violence of the Assad regime has targeted broad sections of the Syrian population.

 The regime arrested those injured during the demos while they were still lying in hospital beds. It continues to pursue Syrian doctors who remain true to the Hippocratic oath and treat the wounded regardless of their political views, while also targeting hospitals. All of the hospitals in eastern Aleppo have been destroyed, without exception. At the same time, the regime has cut off hundreds of thousands of citizens from receiving any kind of supplies or treatment, as the Syrian and Russian air forces inflict an unrelenting bombardment on those left trapped in the city. The message "surrender or starve" became "give yourselves up or die".
 The regime could not have made it much clearer that this was not about military gain and certainly not about tackling the much-talked about danger posed by the so-called Islamic State, but about teaching the civilian population a lesson that should be as painful as possible. That greater numbers of people did not give up as a result of the devastating conditions is because there was often no real choice: those who gave up risked being arrested or killed anyway.

 This can currently be seen on a large scale in Aleppo. The regime arrested men fit for military service after their escape from eastern Aleppo and took them to camps. It is thought as many as 2,000 were captured in the first two days of the latest major offensive alone. The Syrian civil defence force reported 45 deaths, shot by the regime as they fled. It is therefore absolutely outrageous that Germany, among other countries, this year began granting only subsidiary protection to refugees from Syria – protection that is only valid as long as the general war situation continues – because those affected are not being "individually persecuted". But it is clear that the regime does, if not exclusively, also pursue individuals. If your ID card states that you were born in a stronghold of the resistance this can be enough to get you arrested. Many are arrested to exert pressure on other family members – or simply, to give the regime more bargaining chips for a prisoner exchange.
 The West is already not that interested in the minutiae of the horror machine. This is partially due to a deep-seated cliche here of what persecution looks like and the common misconception that threatened minorities are always the victims. But that a well-armed minority with massive troop and weapon support from Russia and Iran wants to bomb and murder into subjugation – this is a scenario we struggle with. After all, while all this is going on, Europe's general line is (still) to demand Assad's resignation – and a helpless UN issues ever more urgent appeals to Assad and Russia to protect the civilian population. Geneva III, the international process to find a political solution, appears to have failed, as Assad and his allies are clearly pushing for a military outcome. But if the regime declares victory without negotiations, this will not be the end to violence in Syria.
 The Islamic State group still exists and will continue to flourish in view of the fact that the West permits Assad to remain in power. And if the regime unleashes its power on those that have opposed it over the years, this could be far more deadly than a potential guerrilla war waged by the extremists. Such a situation will not only affect those living in recaptured areas, but also refugees who are sent back to Syria. There are more than a million Syrian refugees stranded in Lebanon, who are tolerated but not recognised as refugees because Lebanon has not acceded to the relevant UN convention. The internal political pressure to be rid of these people is immense. Should Assad declare the war at an end, this could serve as a welcome pretext for deportation – in Europe too. So Syrian civilians will continue to die. Just out of the public eye.'

How will Syria's revolution be told?

How will Syria's revolution be told?

Mat Nashed:
 'Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad wants the world to believe there are only terrorists in Aleppo. On Wednesday, he told Russia Today - the Kremlin sponsored news network - that the "West" was telling Russia that they are going "too far in defeating terrorists". He said that international pleas to stop the violence in Aleppo were merely western schemes to rescue terrorists. People from across the world have absorbed his propaganda, but civilians trapped in the conflict are telling a different story.

 Lina Shamy, an activist in east Aleppo, has uploaded several videos pleading the international community for help.She recently noted that Russia's initial failure to uphold their promise to evacuate civilians is just another example of why they can't be trusted. Activists like her have been targeted by the regime since the popular uprising started in March 2011. Medics also fear they will be killed for their commitment to saving lives. Four years ago, the Syrian government passed a new terrorism law that criminalises anyone who aids the opposition.

 Doctors have since been punished for treating anyone living in rebel held areas. Some have disappeared while others have been killed by snipers and security agents. The regime has further set ambulances on fire and systematically targeted hospitals, as reported by the Physicians for Human Rights, a non-profit in the US. And then, there are the White Helmets, a group of volunteers who have risked their lives to pull survivors out from under the rubble. The group tweeted Monday that the streets were mounting with dead bodies. They also pleaded for safe passage out of Aleppo, terrified that they would be executed if seized by the regime.

 Bashar al-Assad and his allies have stolen a page from America's foreign policy play book and performed it to perfection. They have used the label of terrorism to group civilians, opposition groups and extremists all under one umbrella. Assad and his supporters simply can't see civilians because they don’t want to.

 Syria's growing civil society has received little attention during five years of conflict. Local councils - created and run by activists - worked together to provide basic services to civilians living under rebel controlled areas. Teachers worked without salaries to give children a semblance of a normal life, and doctors stayed behind to provide urgent care to the injured. These were the sacrifices that thousands of people made in the pursuit of freedom.

 That said, it can't be ignored that rebel groups have also committed a myriad of human rights abuses. Foreign journalists have not been able to report in rebel held territory since 2014 due to the danger of the conflict and risk of being kidnapped. But the Syrian regime has committed war crimes on a systematic scale, all the while empowering extremists. So how will the history of the Syrian revolution be told?

 Popular opinion in the United States tends to assess the conflict as a battle against the Islamic State. The regime and their allies, of course, frame the conflict as an existential battle against terrorism. Self proclaimed anti-imperialists across the globe have read the conflict as an American plot to impose regime change - a perspective that is simply untrue when assessing US ambitions in the conflict. Experts may even refer to the Syrian war as President Barack Obama's greatest foreign policy failure. But what about the voices of civilians and activists who are dead or still trapped in Syria: Will history remember what they stood for?'

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Forced to Leave, Aleppo Evacuees Tell of Their Pain

 'Death in Aleppo was personal for Modar Sheikho. He lost his sister to government bombing early in the revolt. His brother was killed last month. And as they looked for a place to bury him, another airstrike killed his father. Still, Shekho held out in the besieged city as long as he could. When he finally was forced to evacuate Friday, he made a video bidding farewell to the city.

 "We were asking for our freedom. This is what we get," he said against a backdrop of bombed-out buildings and thousands of people waiting for buses to take them away from Aleppo.

 But even in his first hours of exile, the 28-year-old nurse longed to return.

 "My soul is torn out more with each step away from Aleppo."

 Of the more than half-dozen residents and activists that AP has maintained regular contact with in recent months, only one said he felt disillusioned with the rebellion. Most seemed haunted by the city's struggle, saying they can't let go of their dream to create a Syria without Assad. They said they will continue their anti-government activities somehow from wherever they end up.

 One gynecologist who had refused to leave her patients said her husband forced her to flee to a government-controlled area for safety. Farida said she could not stand living for even two days in the government-controlled sector and fled to the countryside, where the rebels are in control.

 "Despite how hard it was under siege and bombardment, I was at peace with myself," she said. Farida's husband, also a doctor, followed. But she is still angry at him for forcing her to leave, adding: "I can't continue my life with him."

 Sheikho left on the first day of the evacuation, which was monitored by the Red Cross. He and thousands of other holdouts boarded green government buses with portraits of Assad in the windshield and were taken to rebel-controlled areas.

 "It is very painful that I separate from my city of 28 years," Sheikho said. "I hope it is quickly liberated so I can return to it."

 On the first day of the government's big ground offensive three weeks ago, Sheikho and his family sought a new home to avoid intense bombing. Like many others, his family was caught on the road by the bombardment, and his brother was killed on the spot. He and his father had to search for a cemetery because Aleppo was running out of burial space. In the process, his father — a prominent professor of Arabic — also was killed.

 Four years earlier, an airstrike killed his sister outside the hospital where she worked as a nurse.

After mourning his father and brother, Sheikho had told the AP: "We are all on the road to death. May God accept them as martyrs." '